To be a farmer, birder and Spanish


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To be a farmer, birder and Spanish

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The first bird I learned to identify was a Turtle dove. My great-grandfather taught me about farmland birds as well as the plants and the insects we have. My childhood natural education was all about the wildlife around the farm; where they live, why they are good for the farm and more importantly why we need the birds living on the farm.


Our farmland walks had the benefit of ensuring that everything was in working order and depending on the season, we would look for mushrooms in the cork oak tree woodlands or in the few pines close to the beach. We would unearth Spanish oyster thistle in the spring and make stews with them. Wild asparagus for delicious omelettes made by grandmother were also part of the menu.


My great-grandfather was a Spanish farmer; a good one. We never had a bad year. If a crop failed, the pigs, cattle or sometimes the subsided crops like cotton would balance the income.


A lasting memory is how he used to talk about the farm with the connection that most farmers have with the land. He would say;  ‘One swallow does not make a summer...but the arrival of the first Turtle dove says summer is close’.


As a little boy, my curiosity would ignite waiting in hope for the sweet repeated “rourr-rourr-rourr" in early April. This was the beginning of a season of wild encounters around the farm.

Now as an adult, that childish curiosity hasn’t faded. I still delight in the hunt for creepy crawlies in farm scrublands and enjoy the pursuit of discovering new and old wild habitats. One of the wonders of my childhood was the observation of the Turtle dove; bird that symbolises love and peace and my memories.  Unfortunately, since then, the beloved turtle dove doesn’t nest anymore, in either our olive trees or the hawthorn. Why? One of the reasons is the food availability.  As they arrive in April the crops have been harvested and there is nothing for them to eat and prepare for the breading season ahead.


Ten years ago my uncle adopted measures for the protection of our scrub and designed plans to create transition habitats. One area of our olive tree production was connected to the grassland area. It managed the scrub and added hawthorn and grasses rich in seed.

At the far end of our pastoral field we also included a plot sowed with cereals and sunflower.

Last September, after spending eleven days back home, those childhood feelings flooded back as I prepared to return to the UK. There was a sense that fun was over and it was now time to return to work.  It wasn’t the sight of my suitcase packed and ready, signifying my return to reality, but the sound of the migrating turtle dove on her way back to Africa. 

  • Thanks Simon- the picture is not mine; it is from one of my top Essex landowners, Russell Savory from Stow Maries.  The RSPB have been advising him from the beginning, helping designing his agreement and supporting him through the establishment of the options of his ELS/HLS agreement.

    This year they have two pairs, one of them had two broods.

    The key of Russell’s success; scrub management, species-rich hay meadows and wonderful hedges.

  • Emily - Thanks for your comments, for me as well, the Turtle dove brings back nostalgic feelings, the extinction of this species will be like stilling part of my childhood memories.

    I recently read somewhere, “bad habits cost the earth but small changes make a big difference”, so true for Turtle dove; with very little work by farmers we can try to stop the decline of this beloved species.

  • Good to see your photo has a young bird as well!...result! Where was it taken and did the RSPB help them?

  • Beautiful Frank- makes me want to go home! There used to be turtle doves in west wales when I was growing up there, but now they are long gone, are are only just holding on in Eastern England, we're so lucky to still be able to hear them on summer evenings here, let's make sure they are here to stay!